Response to early intervention programs in autism is variable. However, the factors associated with positive versus poor treatment outcomes remain unknown. Hence the issue of which intervention/s should be chosen for an individual child remains a common dilemma. We argue that lack of knowledge on "what works for whom and why" in autism reflects a number of issues in current approaches to outcomes research, and we provide recommendations to address these limitations. These include: a theory-driven selection of putative predictors; the inclusion of proximal measures that are directly relevant to the learning mechanisms demanded by the specific educational strategies; the consideration of family characteristics. Moreover, all data on associations between predictor and outcome variables should be reported in treatment studies.